Springing Forward



As the Spring has come back (and I realise I’ve hardly posted on here this year), our garden has once more blossomed once more into a lush gorgeous Eden, which I’m determined to enjoy as much as possible.


At the same time, work is even more hectic than it used to be, we’re short-staffed and over-committed. It’s too easy to try and race to catch up with myself all the time and I find that my time in the garden is increasingly limited. It’s frustrating that although I love gardening and find it relaxing, I am actually sometimese too anxious about work to put the time in to get on with it and it starts to become a source of yet more stress.

I have therefore decided to set myself a new challenge – a vase of flowers for my office every week for a year, but only cut from our own garden. It’s a way to bring something of the peace and tranquility into what is often a hectic environment and to observe and think about the seasons.

You might have noticed that I have often posted pictures of vases of flowers and talk about what goes into them in this blog. I love having flowers around the house but I’m usually unwilling to buy them. Partly because of cost but mainly because of the staggering environmental and social cost of producing and transporting cut flowers, most of them from lands a very long way away.

See for example this excerpt:

Excerpt from this report on cut flowers

Given our lovely garden it shouldn’t be necessary to buy them in anyway, though winter might prove more of a challenge.

At this time of year though, I’m basically spoilt for choice in terms of cutting flowers but hopefully the requirement to get out and look around at least once a week will both inspire me to see the garden with new eyes each week and to educate – especially as I start to work out what different shrubs and flowers actually are and which will keep as cut flowers and which will not and also of course how to mix and arrange different blooms. It will hopefully also force me to keep posting – somethign I often struggle to fit in, even thoguh I like the contemplation that writing forces me to do.

I will post the pictures here and on instagram for your delight and inspiration as a moment of joy.

Starting this week with an easy classic, Convallaria majalis, the lily of the valley. It’s actually a native species too, and in the same family as asparagus.

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I’ve always loved the scent, it’s amazing to me that such unobtrusive flowers can fill a room, or a whole house with such a beautiful perfume. They look delicate but are really as tough as old boots, spreading with some vigour in conditions (dry shade under trees) that other plants find tough to thrive in.

*A word of warning though, all parts of the plant are poisonous. The leaves do have some superficial resemblance to edible wild garlic (ransoms) though they are generally darker + tougher and don’t have the same pungent garlic smell when crushed.*

The small flowers are often difficult to see in the garden so I feel I get much more joy from cutting a few and holding them up close to look at them carefully, while admiring that glorious perfume.

This little vase is now on my desk at work and filling the office with a heavy and heavenly scent.

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Other bigger and more exuberant flowers, I’d rather keep in the garden to admire from afar. The little white bells contrast so beautifully with the large deep green leaves too and I find them surprisingly long lasting in a vase.

So, perfume, beauty and long-lasting flowers, more or less the ideal first entry for my cut flower challenge.

See you next week…



Savouring apple season

It might seem strange, talking about apples in the depths of winter, but we have 4 different apple varieties in our garden, all but one competely unknown to me before we moved in here. Actually Denmark in general has an amazing variety of very good apples, just about all of which seem to be local varieties. They are all super quality and have interesting flavour.

This year was a bumper crop as you can maybe see above! These are from the three mature trees. The smaller one, discovery, had already been plundered by this point and also had the perfect, in my opinion, combination of sweet, juicy, crunchy and slightly tart. Most of the greenish-red apples are a variety called Philippa. Sadly these didnt last although we tried to store some so I have made litres of pureed apple and frozen it. Next year I may try and acquire an apple press for the juice.

The really large yellowy-green ones at the back were also good eaters but made fantastic cooking apples too. So much so that the kids are now very fed up of apple crumble and apple pie. Happily, apple clafoutis seems to still hit the spot!

Now in the depths of January we are on the small red ones. These are a classic Danish Christmas apple, called pigeon, and used to stuff duck or served with nuts and oranges as a Christmas snack. We never had many before and I hadn’t really bothered as they are small and a bit fiddly but this year we made an effort and my goodness they are delicious! A beatufil white flesh, blazing scarlet skin and again that beautiful crunchy, juicy, sweet, tart experience that all the best apples have.

I did not know how to keep them and we lost a box or two too early as they were too warm but the current storage seems to suit them.

They are going a little wrinkly now but are still crisp inside. These are definitely being added to my “Best of Denmark”list.

Another recent addition is my new cookbook. I have a few old reliables but almost never use them now thanks to the internet. However, on a recent celebratory visit to a bookshop, Meyers Salater (salads) caught my eye. Salads have always been something of a bete noire to me. I am pretty terrible at making them, but I like eating them. They are healthy but especially at this time of year with our seasonal vegetable box from Aarstiderne I am often at a loss.

Claus Meyer was at some point ubiquitous in Denmark and internationally famous as one of the founders of Noma. Now, having apparently tired of being a big fish in a small pond he has sold up and moved to New York where he appears to be surfing the Hygge trend.

However, his cafes, bakeries, delis and takeaway food remain and were and are pioneers in the “New Nordic Cuisine”, a riff on the seasonal and local trend here in Denmark. I once borrowed a book of recipes from Noma from the library and realised after a few short reads that even one would take me most of the day to prepare! However, Meyer’s recipe books seem to be a bit more manageabke, just about all my thiry-something Danish friends seem to have one, so I took the plunge and shelled out my 230kr (books are taxed at 25% in Denmark, like everything else, so they are expensive).

Now to the point of this digression in the middle of this post about apples… The Meyer’s salads book has become a huge favourite. I have made at least 8 different recipes out of it and they have all gone down pretty well with the family (maybe with the exception of the 4 year old), so tonight when I was working out what to make for dinner, and given our oversupply of seasonal vegetables I again took it down from the high shelf. I had planned to make a baked beetroot or perhaps red cabbage based salad but the cover image caught my eye and to my delight when I looked it up the recipe specifically called for pigeon apples.

Together with Jerusalem artichokes, thyme and parsley, two things we currently have in abundance, as well as oil salt and apple vinegar. The artichokes are scrubbed, sliced tossed in oil and roasted, the apples sliced and the whole mixed together, I skipped the shallots as I’m not a big fan of raw onions. What could be simpler?

Full recipe Here for those who can read danish:

And I couldn’t resist posting some pictures of the preparations, part of the joy of eating for me is the enjoyment of the look of the food, texture and the blending together. I’m particularly excited at having found another good recipe for Jerusalem artichokes which we often get at this time of year. My next challenge will be trying to replicate our local Sticks’n’sushi‘s awesome deep fried artichokes with truffle oil, an essential part of any vegetarian sushi experience.
These little apples are so very beautiful. Perfect little jewels and doubly tasty for having come from our own garden.

Long may the Apple season continue…

The dark season cometh….

So this post is all about the light again today. Our garden doesn’t get much sunlight in the winter months so when we have a beautiful blue sky sunny day like today we really have to maximise it. I’ve written before about the importance of light at this time of year and I think this truer with every year i spend here. 

I have been really sick the last couple of weeks with flu, so unfortunately I really didnt feel like enjoying today with some hard work in the garden. My husband however couldn’t wait to get outside so he planted the last few bulbs and replanted some raspberries in a sunnier (in summer!) position. I have however been out for a short while to enjoy a little fresh air and  to really take some time to appreciate the garden.

The very little sun we get at this time of year is in the early morning at the front and at sunset in the back. 

This means that only a very few plants see it. I plan to make a bit more of these places next winter if i can, so these photos are sort of placeholders for my memory. This old bit of wall only has ivy on it, imagine if we had a crimson creeper or something with scarlet berries here (added bonus would be the birds we attract)? As it also gets sun in the early spring, something with spring flowers would also be great here, maybe an early flowering cotoneaster? This will need some thought though, the bare branches in front of the wall are a rather straggly flowering currant.

The acer has had beautiful golden leaves on it this autumn and these have only just fallen, given the low sun on them has been so beautiful i wouldnt change a thing here… 

The azalea in front of it has now also dropped its leaves but these were also beautiful vibrant autumn colours. I took this photo a few weeks ago…

Inside our dining table gets sun in the morning time, this year our November cactus has been gorgeous, it really seems to like this position and is a beautiful accompaniment for my revision for the citizenship test (coming up this week).

The orchids are now starting to produce new stems, we often have a good lot of flowers on them in thewinter, somewhat counterintuitively! We are now preparing for the festive season which starts in our house with Sinterklaas on the 5th December, we are almost ready for this inside and In the garden we have done most of the pruning, and planted our bulbs and winter pots. 

This week we will make our advent ring for the table with clay, holly, ivy and of course, candles…

 Prettige Sinterklaasfeest! 

Sweet Harvest

The first harvest of our new Victoria plum tree is finally ready. 

And it is as good as I had hoped, a sweet, slightly tart and beautifully juicy plum. It’s impossible to buy flavour like this and as with Proust’s Madeleines, it is a flavour that takes me straight back to childhood. 

To be entirely honest, we almost forgot about them. The tree is slightly hidden behind a high group of sunflowers and is not yet tall enough to be easily seen. However, luckily, we go there just in time. 
It’s not a big harvest this year, and there is an argument you should not let a tree fruit at all in the first few years to build strength, but we could not resist. 

We also plucked our first runner beans this morning, and I forgot to take photos but we harvested and ate our rather meager (but delicious) new potato crop yesterday. The potatoes were rather neglected at a crucial time as they were in a pot and allowed to dry out while we were on holiday. However, the runner beans have done extremely well and we have a very good crop developing. They are so decorative too. We’ve put up a trellis and they are growing up into the neighboring hibiscus. I would almost grow them just for the beautiful scarlet flowers and heart-shaped foliage. 

 I planted both of these crops with our youngest child, who has really shown an interest and a feel for gardening. It is such a joy to spend time in the garden with her, passing on the knowledge, the skills and the enjoyment via all the senses that the garden provides.

This year for her, the big discovery has been the fresh fig. I adore these and my lovely husband gave me a mature specimen in a pot as a Mother’s Day gift this year. The first figs have now started ripening, and though requiring some encouragement to try one at first, they are now a firm favourite of our children. It is such a wonderful and very funny thing to watch them first rejecting and then realizing how tasty a new kind of fruit is.

This time of year, harvest-time, is when the joy of growing your own fruit and vegetables really comes in.

Anyway, a wonderful way to start a Monday morning. 

A quiet moment

A turbulent day for Europe after the EU referendum and we are spending some quiet time in our garden to recharge with books, tea, biscuits and the cat keeping watch from the castle…

The pond has been planted up, at least in parts and looks better than ever, I have more plans for that and will write more on it later. The wildlife has really started to colonies it, which was the idea of course and it is such a peaceful place to sit next to and just watch to see what is there. Today I have been watching the beetles diving and the water snails busily munching algae on the undersides of the lily pads.
The peonies are almost completely done and the roses are taking over in the garden. These orange ones are a colour I would never have chosen but in the evening light they really shine out so beautifully. A good renovation prune by my husband has really got  them in to great shape this year, compared to last. It always feels very brutal at the time but it’s worth it. .

We don’t have so many roses in the garden, though I gather the ones we do have are a remnant of the tiem the garden was a rose garden, before the current hostas- azalaeas and rhododendrons were brought it. Anyway, this means thta June is really a bit of a lull in the flowering time and at mid-summer some of the beds are looking rather straggly and a bit neglected so some action will need to be taken this weekend there.
 However, our hostas are again looking fantastic, we’ve been mostly lucky so far, a dry spring kept the slugs at bay while they emerged from the ground, now though after a truly torrential downpour yesterday (and more forecast this weekend), they seem to be making up for lost time. I will post some pics tomorrow of these plants. I have even planted some new ones round the pond to bring it together with the rest of the garden.

I cut a few flowers this evening for the house, here is the ever reliable alchemilla mollis, ladies mantle, together with a few sweet peas, and a purple flowering plant. I’m actually not quite sure what it is. It grows like a weed especially in gravelly places but I like the feathery leaves and it is very hardy and reliable. It contrasts well with the yellow alchemilla and the vibrant sweet peas. I also added some pink persicaria flowers (these have been another revelation from this garden, it’s a superb plant and rightly has an RHS medal) and a pelargonium flower, again for the contrast with the yellow. We’ll see how long they last but for now it has a nice home made cottage garden feel .

I finished up this evening drinking Scotland’s finest and reading by candlelight after a spectacular sunset. It is a risk when you have a garden (and are interested in gardening), that you spend all your time working in it, not just being in it. Today I think we both really needed to just be, we are so lucky to have a garden and it is really a solace in difficult times, as Voltaire also recognized in Candide “il faut cultiver notre jardin”.

Red sky is usually supposed to be a sign of good weather but today it’s stormy sunset. Hopefully this is not an omen of stormy times ahead for Europe. As I write I can already hear distant thunder. May be a rough night for the garden is ahead.

 The finest time of year

Right now, the garden is really coming to its summer peak. These beauties are also at their peak. Peonies. 

If I am entirely honest, the presence of these gorgeous blooms in a big mass at the front of our house was one of the reasons I was really really keen on what eventually became our abode. Probably not a conventional reason for buying a particular place over another but the previous owners had cut several large bunches of the tightly rolled flowers that were steadily unfurling, and the beautiful rose scent of them filled the living room. 

They are extremely easy to grow. These bushes are well established, they come up by themselves each year, we let them flower and then the actually rather attractive feathery foliage lasts through the summer. They die down with the first frosts and we remove the brown dead leaves afterwards. We add a little top dressing of home-made compost in autumn and spring (though this year we forgot so they are maybe slightly smaller than usual). And that’s it! 

Mostly I leave them outside on the bushes to be enjoyed by everyone walking past but today on the rainfall radar provided by our weather service I saw this heavy shower heading our way:

At this time of year occasionally heavy showers can develop into big storms with torrential rains. It has cooled off a bit since last week but even so I decided not to risk it and cut a big bunch of the aforementioned flowers in case heavy rain materialized and completely hammered them to pieces. 

I particularly love the tightly crammed petals just as the flowers are about to open fully. 

They come in a range of colours from deep burgundy red through pinks to pure white. I had always previously preferred the dark red, but given the pinks we have I’m pretty happy with what we’ve got too. The pure white is a beautiful complementary colour and occasionally has these tiny little ripples of deep pink shot through as in this one I cut a few days earlier. 

This is really one of my favourite times of year in the garden and it often seems to have good weather. Our peonies are one of the other big benefits. 

 They are now providing a beautiful scent, color and inspiration while I clear some rather tedious admin and the rain is softly falling outside… 

Spoilt for choice

Right now in the garden summer is in full-on mode. I’m spoilt for choice as to what to admire but these black-eyed beauties caught my eye this morning. Oriental poppies, Papaver Orientale, are something I’ve not previously grown, though I really like, the common European corn poppy. 

I’m not actually that big a fan of the fire engine red plants, especially as these don’t seem to colour well with the rest of the garden but they are such a bold statement and I think some new planting around them with coordinating hot colours could really work. The extremely fragile looking frilly petals are a wonderful contrast to the foliage and the bright colours, I really like these plants, but they only last a few days, especially in the heat we’re having right now so it’s important to really appreciate them.

I think this variety is called Turkenlouis, I may try to get some Patty’s Plum, a famous burgundy colored variety as well, since they do well in dry spots. However, right now just getting done amongst the foliage to have a really good poke around is a great way to spend 5 minutes to myself before work… 

Clematis confetti

Another of my garden favourites this week, the famous – and ubiquitous- clematis montana, has reached it’s peak this week. We actually have two planted that are gradually covering the back of our house where we have a small deck: 

During heavy rain the other night I came down to the kitchen to find the back door open and a mass of confetti blown in on the floor… 

It has been such lovely weather lately so I have been working out on the deck in the evenings. 

The scent from the clematis has made it such a joy, I have never really noticed clematis montana had much of a perfume, but this has been a particularly lovely one. I have used clematis in other gardens, it’s a brilliant plant for hiding ugly features like a particularly unattractive garage wall covered in pebble dash when we lived in Scotland. It also seems to grow well in pots. Another advantage of the clematis montana is the fact it does not require pruning unlike other types.

Other clematis are also well established favourites of ours, including this summer flowering variety. I’m not quite sure which one it is, perhaps “The President”. But in spite of the advice to cut these hard back in spring, my husband has been experimenting with keeping one long strand, in an attempt to get it to grow into the apple tree. We will see how good the flowers are this year, but so far it’s working. 

Sadly the flowering time has been all too brief this year, the warm weather combined with the heavy rain and wind in the night and this morning, has left our terrace covered in a fine scattering of confetti. There is something about the very fragile petals which I found quite moving, a reminder to really pay attention and enjoy the passing of the seasons from spring to summer.

An embarrassment of riches

After work yesterday evening I decided to cut some flowers for the house, it’s not just rhododendron and azaleas that are at their peak, the lilac (syringa) and a number of other flowering shrubs, lily of the valley, aquilegia and bleeding hearts are all beautiful. I ended up with 4 vases full of flowers. This is our reward for the winter… 

I haven’t tried cutting rhododendron before, let’s see how long it lasts for. The advantage of cutting flowers is you really start to notice the details. I had not really see the little delicate dab of yellow in these before.

I have an ambivalent view of lilac. On the one hand I love the beautiful exuberant flowers with their extravagant scent at his time of year, on the other hand the shrub itself can require a lot of maintenance, putting up whip like suckers at the least opportunity that require removing to maintain a nice shape and optimise flowering. The tree at the front of our house is ancient according to the previous owners but has been really well maintained, it has the most gorgeous double flowers in tight clusters.

We also have a rather unusual small leaved lilac with mini-flowers that has produced overwhelming amounts of blossom this year, absolutely gorgeous in combination with a shrub I have yet to identify but is similar to weigela.

I also decided to experiment with some of the more cottage garden flowers in this vase, see which you can identify! 

I particularly like these bleeding hearts, they are a superb woodland type plant and seem to work well in as a cut flower. I’m not sure how long any of these will last as cut flowers, I hope for a week. 

Finally, as I promised myself yesterday I plucked a small posy of lily of the valley (convallaria), combined with bluebells and a few florets I had left over. 

So that is my morning meditation done. 

Back to work…